The 1980s called – asking for the Z80 Membership Card

The ’80’s and early ’90’s saw a huge proliferation of “personal” computers, spawning an army of hacker kids who would go on to hone their computing chops on 8-bit and 16-bit computers from brands such as Sinclair, Commodore, Acorn, Apple, Atari, Tandy/RadioShack and Texas Instruments. Fast forward to 2017, and Raspberry-Pi, BeagleBone and micro:bit computers reign supreme. But the old 8-bit and 16-bit computer systems can still teach us a lot.

[Lee Hart] has built the amazing Z80 Membership Card — a Z80 computer that fits in an Altoids tin. His design uses generic through hole parts mounted on a PCB with large pads, thick tracks and lots of track clearances, making assembly easy. Add to this his detailed documentation, where he weaves some amazing story telling, and it makes for a really enjoyable, nostalgic build. It makes you want to get under the hood and learn about computers all over again. The Z80 Membership Card features a Zilog Z80 microprocessor running at 4 MHz with 32k RAM and 32K EPROM, loaded with BASIC interpreter and monitor programs. A pair of 30-pin headers provide connections to power, I/O pins, data, address and control signals.

To accompany this board, he’s built a couple of companion “shield” boards. The Front Panel Card has a 16-key hex pad, 7-digit 7-segment LED display and Serial port. [Lee] has packed in a ton of features on the custom monitor ROM for the front panel card making it a versatile, two board, 8-bit system. Recently, he finished testing a third board in this series — a Serial/SD-Card/RAM shield which adds bank-switchable RAM and SD-card interface to provide “disk” storage. He’s managed to run a full CP/M-80 operating system on it using 64k of RAM. The two-board stack fits nicely in a regular Altoids tin. A fellow hacker who built the three-board sandwich found it too tall for the Altoids tin, and shared the design for a 3D printable enclosure.

[Lee] provides detailed documentation about the project on his blog with schematics, assembly instructions and code. He’s happy to answer questions from anyone who wants help building this computer. Do check out all of his other projects, a couple of which we’ve covered in the past. Check out Lee Hart’s Membership Card — a similar Altoids tin sized tribute to the 1802 CMOS chip and how he’s Anthropomorphizing Microprocessors.

Finally, we have to stress this once again — check out his Assembly Manuals [PDF, exhibit #1] — they are amazingly entertaining.

Thanks to [Matthew Kelley] who grabbed one of [Lee]’s kits and then tipped us off.

3D printed Math Grenade

Calculator hacks are fun and educational and an awesome way to show-off how 1337 your skills are. [Marcus Wu] is a maker who likes 3D printing and his Jumbo Curta Mechanical Calculator is a project from a different era. For those who are unfamiliar with the Curta, it is a mechanical calculator that was the brainchild of Curt Herzstark of Austria from the 1930s. The most interesting things about the design were the compactness and the complexity which baffled its first owners.

The contraption has setting sliders for input digits on the side of the main cylindrical body. A crank at the top of the device allows for operations such as addition and subtraction with multiplication and division requiring a series of additional carriage shift operations. The result appears at the top of the device after each crank rotation that performs the desired mathematical operation. And though all this may seem cumbersome, the original device fit comfortably in one hand which consequently gave it the nick name ‘Math Grenade’.

[Marcus Wu] has shared all the 3D printable parts on Thingiverse for you to make your own and you should really take a look at the video below for a quick demo of the final device. There is also a detailed set of images (82 or so) here that present all the parts to be printed. This project will test your patience but the result is sure to impress your friends. For those looking to dip your toes in big printed machines, check out these Big Slew Bearings for some inspiration.

Dual Trace Scope 1939 Style

If you buy a serious scope these days, it is a good bet it will have at least two channels. There is a lot of value to being able to see two signals in relation to one another at one time. Even though the dual-trace oscilloscope goes back to 1938, they were uncommon and expensive for many years. [Mr. Carlson] found a device from 1939 that would turn a single channel scope into a dual trace scope. In 1939, that was quite the engineering feat.

Today, a dual trace scope is very likely to be digital. But some analog scopes used CRTs with multiple beams to actually draw two traces on the same screen. Most, however, would draw either one trace followed by the other (alternate mode) or rapidly switch between channels (chopper mode). This Sylvania type 104 electronic switch looks like it takes the alternate approach, switching between signals on each sweep using vacuum tubes. You can see the device in action in the video, below.

The inputs and outputs of the device are just simple binding posts, but the unit looked to be in good shape except for the power cord. [Mr. Carlson] does a teardown and he even traced out a hand-drawn schematic. Fair warning. The video is pretty long. If you want to get right to the switch actually driving a scope, that’s at about one hour and seven minutes in.

We doubt we’ll see a tube-based Quake game anytime soon. If you want to get into restoring old tube-based gear yourself, you could do worse than read about radio restoration.

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Retro-Styled Raspberry Pi Radio

Ok, so you want a radio — but not just any radio. It has to be wireless, access a variety of music services, and must have a vintage aesthetic that belies its modern innards. Oh, and a tiny screen that displays album art, because that’s always awesome. This 1938 Emerson AX212-inspired radio delivers.

Building on the backbone of a Raspberry Pi Zero W and an Adafruit MAX 98357 mono amp chip, the crux of this single-speaker radio is the program Mopidy. Mopidy is a music player that enables streaming from multiple services, with the stipulation that you have a premium Spotify account. Once signed up, [Tinkernut] helpfully outlines how to set up Mopidy to run automatically once the Pi boots up. The addition of a screen to display album art adds flair to the design,  and Adafruit’s 1.8″ TFT LCD screen is small enough to fit the bill.

But wait — there’s more!

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Restoring a Retro 747 Control Display Unit

Anyone who’s into retro aviation gear falls in love with those mysterious displays, dials, keypads, banks of knife switches. There’s a lot of sexy in those devices, built with high standards in a time when a lot of it was assembled by hand.

[Jeremy Gilbert] bought a 747-200’s Control Display Unit (CDU)– the interface with the late ’70s in-flight computer–and is bringing it back to life in a Hackaday.io project. His goal is to get it to light up and operate just as if it were installed in a 747.

Of particular interest is the display, which turned out to consist of a series of 5×7 matrices (seen on the right) controlled by chips no one uses any more. However, [Jeremy] found a blog post where someone had hacked out Arduino code for a cousin of the chip, saving him a lot of time. However, he’s got a lot more sleuthing yet to do.

If you’re into retro displays, we’ve mentioned a number of good ones, including the legendary Apollo DSKY and an awesome retrocomputer.

 

 

 

Super Mario World Jailbreak Requires no External Hardware

[SethBling] has released a Super Mario World jailbreak that allows players to install a hex editor, then write, install and run their own game mods. What’s more is this all works on unmodified cartridges and SNES hardware. No hardware hacks required.

[Seth] is quick to say he didn’t do all this alone. This mod came to be thanks to help from [Cooper Harasyn] who discovered a save file corruption glitch, [MrCheese] who optimized the hex editor, and [p4plus2] who wrote some awesome mods.

While no soldering and programming of parts are required, installing this mod still requires quite a bit of hardware. Beyond the SNES and cartridge, you’ll need two multitaps, three controllers, and clamps to hold down buttons on the controllers. Even then the procedure will take about an hour of delicate on-screen gymnastics. Once the jailbreak is installed though, it is kept in savegame C, so you only have to do it once.

What does a hex editor allow you to do? Anything you want. Mario’s powerup state can be edited, one memory location can be modified to complete a level anytime you would like. It’s not just modifying memory locations though – you can write code that runs, such as [p4plus2’s] sweet telekinesis mod that allows Mario to grab and move around any enemy on the screen.

It’s always awesome to see old video game hardware being hacked on by a new generation of hackers. We’ve seen similar work done on Super Mario Brothers 3, and an original GameBoy used to pilot a drone, just to name a couple.

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Building a Replica Final Cartridge III

The Commodore 64 was the computer of the 8-bit era, and remains the highest selling computer of all time. In addition to disk and tape drives, it also had a cartridge interface. A popular extension cartridge was the Final Cartridge III, which offered a variety of disk utilities and a GUI. [Greisi] was in possession of a no longer functional cartridge, and decided to reverse engineer the device.

[Greisi] started by desoldering all the ICs and mapping out a schematic for the board. The design centers around common parts for the era, such as a UV-erasable EPROM and some 74-series logic. [Greisi] decided to then modernise the design and make some improvements. Adding a fuse should avoid the cartridge catching on fire, and a bunch of decoupling capacitors on all the ICs should reduce noise. A FLASH chip is used instead of the old school UV-erasable part, which makes writing to the device much easier.

It’s a great build performed in a stunningly tidy workshop, and [Greisi] has provided the schematics and PCB designs to the public here. That means that many more users can build their own Final Cartridge III without having to hunt for original hardware which is growing scarcer. You can learn more about the Final Cartridge III on Wikipedia.

We’ve actually seen the Final Cartridge III before – used in this blinkenwall installation. Video below the break.

[Thanks Adrian!]

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